Marc Aspland on catching sports photography's fleeting moments

Tennis star Nicholas Hilmy ‘Nick’ Kyrgios photographed exclusively for The Times at a Spanish tennis tournament, May 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Marc Aspland

“I want to sum up the 90 minutes with my shot,” says Marc Aspland. “That might be the expression of the manager who’s just seen his team throw away a one-nil lead, or the superstar player that’s just missed a fine chance.”

As Chief Sports Photographer for The Times newspaper, Marc sees his job as capturing the most important moment of a sporting event creatively. It’s all about quality over quantity, and after years of using Canon, he’s found the EOS-1D X Mark II pushes him to be inventive.

Cambridge University celebrates beating Oxford by two-and-a-half lengths in 18 minutes and 38 seconds on the tideway between Putney and Mortlake, London, England, 27 March 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens. © Marc Aspland

That’s equal parts due to the camera’s capabilities, Marc’s desire to be creative, and his close relationship with the paper he works on. As far as his workflow goes, it may be a little different from other sports photographers – instead of shooting everything he sees around him, he waits that little bit longer until the shot comes to him. “I don't need to be constantly pressing that ‘send’ button to the editor, as the agency guys might do because their market is so vast,” he says. “I know what my sports editor is after and I know what players our journalists are specifically writing about so I can be a great deal more selective about the pictures I send.”

His camera allows for more situations where he can confidently capture that single moment of importance, with no fear of the usual barriers. “If I see something in low light, something that the 20 photographers sitting next to me at a football final haven't seen, I can push that ISO value with no noise.” The camera focuses quickly and remains sharp. “I’ve got the ability to then swing that camera around and have that super fast, super accurate focus – even at f/8 with a long lens – on the player running towards me.” Within the blink of an eye he can negotiate the low light and do his job: to capture the essence of live sport.

A close-up of rugby winger Jack Nowell
Rugby star Jack Nowell photographed exclusively for The Times as part of the paper’s ‘My sporting body’ series, February 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. © Marc Aspland

It’s pushing me further because I know the camera is capable of it.

Though Marc has switched camera bodies, his go-to lenses haven’t changed. “All of the same EF lenses that I used with the 1D X – ranging from my 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye all the way through to the 70-200mm f/2.8L and the 200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x, are the same,” he says. “In fact, at one football final I used a 2x Extender on it so I had an 800mm focal length. So, there's anything from 15mm all the way up to 800mm, which is probably the stock choice of any sports photographer.”

One of the key step-ups between the original 1D X and the new camera has been the frame rate – with the Mark II offering 14fps continuous shooting of full resolution RAW or JPEG files, and the ability to shoot at 16fps in Live View mode. That’s impressive, but has Marc utilised these progressions in the camera? “Yes,” is the short answer, “because for the winning goal at a cup final I will now be getting a chance to capture four, five or six frames of that very, very brief moment in time, at 1/2000sec, when a man kicks a ball. It’s giving me more of a chance to be creative because it’s giving me more of a frame rate. It’s pushing me further because I know the camera is capable of it, so therefore I become more capable.”

Knowing that he’s captured the shot that he wanted straight away is also new to Marc. “There's absolute clarity and sharpness in the image. If I’m using an 85mm f/1.2 lens at f/1.2, I can actually look through the viewfinder and know what I’m looking at and focusing on,” he says.

A low-level shot of a racehorse
A low angle captures the action as a horse and rider take a lead on the racecourse, Cheltenham, March 2016. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with an EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM lens. © Marc Aspland

Whether it’s the action sport shots, or the more staged portraits of the industry's personalities, Marc thinks all photographers would benefit from picking up the 1D X Mark II. “Its capabilities will make you think of different pictures because the camera is capable of different pictures,” he explains.“ Someone far better than me will talk about the very, very technical details of this camera but I’d never say to a photographer, ‘you must do this because it takes a CFast card and reads RAW files at 16 frames per second’ – that’s not so important. What’s important is that it will push a photographer to have the ability to see and capture pictures which they probably wouldn't have thought were possible before.”

To find out more about the 1D X Mark II, check out the product page.

Written by Steve Fairclough

Related articles

View All

Canon Professional Services

Members get access to CPS Priority Support, both locally and at major events; a priority Fast Track repair service; and — depending on your level of membership — free back-up equipment loans plus return shipping and discounts on maintenance. They can also enjoy exclusive members’ offers.


Learn more

Canon Professional Services